Friday, July 21, 2017

Former Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr sues League City, Texas, mayor

Former Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr filed a lawsuit against League City, Texas, and its mayor Pat Hallisey Wednesday in U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging his First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired December 12.

Rohr took the city manager position in League City March 31, 2014, after the Joplin City Council fired him by a 5-4 vote a month earlier.

In the petition, Rohr claims that he was fired after he filed ethics complaints against Hallisey, accusing him of interfering with the city manager's job and staff and violating confidentiality rules.

Despite the significance of Mr. Rohr’s allegations against Mayor Hallisey, in October 2016 the City Council declined to take any action. 

Immediately after the Council announced its decision, Mayor Hallisey remarked that Mr. Rohr was “not good for the city” and would “not be there much longer.”

Less than a month after the investigation into the Mayor’s ethical conduct, an article was published in The Daily News titled “Mayor Wants Manager, Attorney Fired.” 

The article examined the Mayor’s efforts to retaliate against the City Attorney and Manager, including his decision to add their terminations to the City Council’s formal agenda. 

In the same article, Mayor Hallisey is quoted stating that he has “lost confidence in Rohr and (City Attorney Nghiem) Doan” pointing out that the two have worked against him.

Unfortunately, Mayor Hallisey’s efforts to oust the City Manager and the City Attorney were rewarded by the City Council. On December 13, 2016 Mr. Rohr was terminated by a 5-3 vote and City Attorney Nghiem Doan barely retained his position by a 4-4 vote. 

This indicates that the two individuals who dared to report and investigate Mayor Hallisey were targeted for termination based on a Council recommendation strongly pushed and advocated by Mayor Hallisey. 

Rohr says he was punished for exercising his First Amendment rights and filing the ethics complaints against Hallisey.

Defendant acted intentionally to chill Plaintiff’s speech, discredit him by damaging his reputation and punish him for exercising his rights under the First Amendment.

Rohr is asking for the following:

a. Back pay from the date of her termination to present

 b. Front pay in an amount the Court deems equitable and just to make Plaintiff whole

c. All reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees incurred by or on behalf of Plaintiff

d. All reasonable and necessary costs incurred in pursuit of this suit

e. Emotional pain

f. Pre- and post-judgment interest

g. Mental anguish in the past

h. Mental anguish in the future

i. Medical and other benefit expenses incurred due to the loss of benefits.

Rohr is asking for a jury trial.

Rohr was hired by League City, citing his experience in economic development and his ability to launch the rebuilding of Joplin after the EF-5 tornado swept through the city May 22, 2011.

Rohr said when he left office 92 percent of the homes had been rebuilt or were in the process of being rebuilt, and 90 percent of the businesses were back on track. In addition, he said the city still had $190 million in aid to spend.

"League City may not have a natural disaster - hopefully - but it will be in a better position by having me to manage it," Rohr said. "I can be a manager under difficult circumstances and manage well. You can't imagine the disarray and anxiety in circumstances when a third of your city is destroyed. If you can handle that, you can handle any circumstance that comes your way."

Rohr came to national attention for his leadership in Joplin following the tornado, but his time here, just like at his previous city manager jobs, came to an end following battles with elected officials who did not agree with his method of operation.

Rohr's downfall in Joplin came after his successful attempt to convince Joplin Globe Editor Carol Stark to fight his battle with City Councilman Bill Scearce, who was critical of Rohr.

It was easy to understand why Rohr had no qualms about going after Scearce. He employed the same tactics he had used to remove another Joplin elected official who stood in his way, former Mayor Jon Tupper, even using the Globe to his advantage.

The September 13, 2015 Turner Report explored the similarities between the approach used by Rohr and the Globe in dealing with Tupper and Scearce. The post was written during a time when preparation was taking place for a hearing against former City Councilman Mike Woolston:

Tupper was voted off the City Council by a 7-1 margin after the council found that he had violated the City Charter by attempting to have Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Calvin and others who worked for Calvin fired.

The Globe's coverage of the two council members differs in every way except one- the role played by former City Manager Mark Rohr.

The newspaper was willing to spend thousands in 2014 in a court battle to have the Loraine Report revealed to the public and then did everything to discredit it, concentrating on its cost and on the idea that Loraine went out of his way to go after Rohr, who was fired the day the council received the report.

And though there were many allegations, in sworn statements from respected Joplin citizens, about Woolston, those were glossed over, as the Globe concentrated on the portions concerning Rohr

Globe Editor Stark came under criticism in the Loraine Report (something I cannot recall ever seeing mentioned in the newspaper) for her willingness to take information provided to her by Rohr and using it to go after Rohr's enemies, in this case Councilman Bill Scearce.

The Globe ran one lengthy investigative story after another about Scearce's connection to a gambling operation that had been run out of one of his buildings 20 years ago, something that never resulted in any charges or even any mention of charges against Scearce, but then ignored allegations of far more substance against Woolston. The attacks on Scearce came after Rohr became convinced that Scearce was the ringleader of an attempt to fire him that failed by one vote in August 2013.

A check of the Globe's reporting on the Tupper case shows that the same dynamic was in play. Tupper had threatened to have Rohr fired and suddenly Stark and Woodin were using the full force of the newspaper's power against Tupper.

From the June 18, 2008, Globe:
City Manager Mark Rohr has submitted a written statement corroborating that Councilman Jon Tupper said he would try to take Rohr's job if director Jerry Calvin and two other parks department employees were not forced out of their jobs. Rohr's statement now might have made him the target of an ouster effort by Tupper and two other council members.At that point, Rohr's written statement had not been made public. Later in the article, Woodin explained how the newspaper had obtained the statement:Rohr's written statement, in the Tupper investigation, was obtained by the Globe as the result of an open records request. It appears to back up allegations revealed in e-mails of city employees obtained by an earlier open records request. Those allegations stated that Tupper threatened to go after Rohr's job if Rohr did not get rid of Calvin and two other parks department employees.
From all appearances, Rohr spoon fed information to Stark and Woodin, and his role in that case was covered by Sunshine Law requests.

Even more revealing was an article published exactly one month earlier, May 18, 2008, which was apparently not written by Woodin. The byline reads "From Staff Reports." Usually, that byline is attached to news releases, which the only thing any staff member contributed was typing. In this case, it appears the byline may have been used to prevent any indication that a Globe editor, most likely Stark, was involved in the writing.

From the article:

The Joplin City Council will be asked at its regular meeting tonight to once again consider disciplinary action against fellow council member Jon Tupper.
Tupper faces two cases of alleged wrongdoing.
One case involves some city employees. City administrators have not made public any details surrounding that case except to say that some employees made allegations against Tupper to the city's Human Resources Department. The department director referred the case to the city manager. He and Mayor Gary Shaw forwarded the case to the city attorney, Brian Head, who on Friday said he should not discuss the case except to say that it likely would come before the council tonight and that details of the investigation would become public then.
The day after the Globe reported the probe, Tupper filed an unsigned request with city administrators seeking hundreds of page of city documents, most of them related to the Parks and Recreation Department and city sports venues. Tupper also asked for some time sheets and expense sheets of several city department heads and supervisors, and a few rank-and-file employees in the parks and tourism departments. The Globe has filed an open records request for Tupper's request and for any documents turned over to Tupper. A copy of Tupper's request was received by the Globe on Friday by mail.
It was sent anonymously. Knowing what we know from the Scearce situation, it does not seem to be any stretch of the imagination to say Rohr provided the Globe with its information, and with detailed instructions on what documents to seek.
The Globe's actions in the Tupper case may easily have kept Rohr from being fired only four years into his time in Joplin.

Ironically, in a 2004 article, Globe reporter Andy Ostmeyer provided a background investigation of Rohr's time in previous cities that featured indications that Rohr had run into the same problems time after time leading to his dismissals in each of those communities.


Anonymous said...

Good luck with that.

Mr Rohr could be thinking ahead and get a Hollywood agent and hope for a revival of the Conehead movie series.

Anonymous said...

Rohr can't seem to hold a job. He attacks city employees there, like in Joplin, and cries when the tables are turned. I wonder if he condemned them to hell like he did the Joplin City Council? Karma is a bitch, maybe he can write another book detailing his efforts to save the community like he suggested he did in Joplin. As many times as he's been fired, it's a wonder that anyone would seriously consider his application for work. Good riddance to the rubbish that likes to assault his own wife.

Anonymous said...

A couple years ago hundreds of Joplinites would have been crying foul about any bad thing said about their hero Rohr. Where all you supporters at now??? Crickets!

Anonymous said...

He should be flogged

Anonymous said...

Rohr is just like many terrible school administrators. He makes a mess then leaves and someone else hires his sorry butt. Happens all the time and neither school districts or municipalities seem to learn or care.

Yup. said...

I think we have all seen this phenomenon in many sectors. There are those who are good at the job but not so great at bragging about it. Then there are the consumate self promoters. Time after time we watch these substandard performers amaze interviewers with imagined and embellished tales of past successes and promises of fairytale futures. Employers are impressed by what tbey see as confidence. They hire these "stars" and eagerly await the fruits of their good fortune. When reality sets in, and the moon is not delivered as promised, the golden child inevitability offers up the sheep who have thwarted the efforts of the demi-god.
This is not a plea to position seekers to employ false modesty or otherwise hide their light under a bushel. This is a simple acknowledgment that far too many who hire are easily swayed by obvious hype.